“I like cake, and no mistake
But baby if you insist
I’ll cut out cake just for your sake
Baby, c’mon, knock me a kiss”
-Andy Razaf/Mike Jackson
And that’s how M Ensemble’s first scene of Knock Me a Kiss opens, with band leader Jimmie Lunceford telling Yolande Du Bois just what he’ll do to win her hand. Ethan Henry plays Lunceford and his real life wife, Makeba Pace, plays Du Bois. And these two cook from lights up. They’re fast and fun. Lunceford wants “a little juice” and Du Bois is playing hard to get. She’s got her social standing to consider and he’s nothing but a poor musician looking to move on up to the Cotton Club.
It’s 1928 in Harlem and she’s the daughter of W.E.B Du Bois, America’s leading black intellectual and co-founder of the NAACP. She adores her Daddy and at 26 she wants to emulate him and help the downtrodden. Getting hooked up with an alto sax player was not going to get her respect in Daddy’s eyes nor the first class ocean liner ticket to Paris she always pined for. Enter Countee Cullen, leading black poet of the day and protege of W.E.B. Yolande has to pick a groom and, of course, she goes for the upstanding poet. Got to please old Dad. Well, you can guess how that turns out.
By the way, Knock Me a Kiss is based on fact; real people doing their stuff here.
There’s a lot of good humor in this piece despite it being a history lesson. Lela Elam goes on a wild ride as Lenora, Yolande’s confidante; always willing to help and then some. Ethan Henry is, as usual, the guy who lights up the joint. It’s a different Knock Me a Kiss whenever he’s on stage. And Makeba Pace, who’s in almost every scene, is completely smooth and believable as she plays her arc.
Written by Charles Smith and directed by Lowell Williams the play has a static quality to it, not helped by the laid back performances of André L. Gainey as W.E.B. Du Bois, Carolyn Johnson as his wife, Nina and Samuel Umoh as Countee Cullen.
Set design by Gregory M. Contreras and lights by Johnathan Bulgini. Knock Me A Kiss plays through Feb. 23 at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center, 10950 SW 211 Street, Cutler Bay. 786-573-5300 www.smdcac.org.